Sunday 18 March 2018 / 05:14 AM


After the fiery atmosphere of the second Border-Gavaskar clash in Bangalore, the third Test in Ranchi is expected to be a tense and heated battle when hostilities between the two sides resume on Thursday.

The fact Ranchi is hosting its first-ever Test match makes this contest all the more interesting as no one really knows what to expect from the pitch at India’s 26th Test venue. Pitches and so-called ‘pitch doctoring’ have become a talking point in this series, especially after the first Test pitch in Pune spun prodigiously from early in the game and was rated poor by ICC match referee Chris Broad. The 22 yards in Bangalore provided for an engaging battle as batsman struggled to come to terms with the variable bounce and turn that the wicket offered. It was a hard graft that made for a very watchable game.

There have been plenty of sensationalist beat-ups in the lead up to the Ranchi Test about the state of the pitch India and Australia will do battle on, but the local cricket association have said they want a match that goes the full five days in their debut Test. The Jharkhand State Cricket Association Stadium is one of the larger playing arenas in India, and combined with what is traditionally a low and slow pitch, batsmen on both sides will have their work cut out and the teams will have to play more patient cricket than they have been required to do so in the series to date.

The pitch is likely to be on the drier side, which will once again ensure that the spin bowlers are very important to both sides. India will be pleased their spin twins, Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, found form in Bangalore after less than impressive showings in Pune.

Australia are likely to persist with Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe, both of whom have been good so far, while looking to cover the gaps left by injuries to the two Mitchells – Marsh and Starc – both of whom have returned home after shoulder and foot injuries ruled them out of the rest of the series.

Victorian all-rounder Marcus Stoinis has joined the squad in India as cover for Marsh while fast bowler Pat Cummins is in line to play just his second Test, six years after his first, as Starc’s replacement. Pace sensation Cummins is tipped to edge out Jackson Bird in the race to partner Josh Hazlewood due to team management preferring to have a bowler with raw pace to compliment Hazlewood’s accuracy and control.

Just who slots in for Australia at number six appears to be more of a riddle, but it seems the decision will be made between Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell and Usman Khawaja. Australia’s liking for fifth bowling option, and his reputation of being a poor player of spin, will count against Khawaja. With the pitch likely to turn, Steve Smith could look to the prodigiously talented but inconsistent Maxwell, although Smith’s reluctance to bowl Maxwell in this summer’s ODIs could mean that his Victorian teammate Stoinis is handed his first Baggy Green.

India are likely to stick with the winning combination from Bangalore, but if they choose to return to Virat Kohli’s favoured five-bowler strategy it might mean a recall for off-spinner Jayant Yadav to ease the load on lead spinners Ashwin and Jadeja. Jayant was poor in Pune, and was dropped for batsman Karun Nair in Bangalore. If opener Murali Vijay is fit he will reclaim his spot at the top of the order in place of Abhinav Mukund.

The fireworks between the teams in Bangalore are not likely to be far from sight in Ranchi. Despite the BCCI and Cricket Australia attempting to kiss and make up between the second and third Tests, tempers are definitely frayed and tensions at boiling point between two teams who have a fierce rivalry built on a mutual dislike for one another and intense battles over the last two decades.

India came out firing in Bangalore and were intent on making an aggressive statement after their inept showing in Pune and, led by passionate skipper Kohli, the Indians are unlikely to take a backward step in their bid to reclaim the Border-Gavaskar trophy.

With the series on the line in Ranchi it is unlikely there will be any shrinking violets out on the field come Thursday morning. These are two aggressive teams in the middle of a heated battle, and with everything to play for expect a cracker of a Test match with plenty of verbals and hard-fought cricket.

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Akash Fotedar

Akash is a Perth-based sportswriter and journalist who has come on board with Commentary Box Sports to provide expert cricket, AFL and tennis coverage. An experienced cricketer, Akash has played three seasons in England as an overseas pro and is still active in grade cricket in WA.

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